Orange Technical College – West Campus is moving to a larger campus and into a new facility that will be custom-built for a tech school, said Lauren Roth, senior manager of Facilities Communications for Orange County Public Schools. OTC West, traditionally known as Westside Tech, opened in 1974 in the former Charles R. Drew High School, which closed in 1969 following desegregation.
OCPS has nearly completed the design phase for OTC West’s replacement school, and construction should begin this summer. The new facility, to be located near Ocoee High School on Ocoee-Apopka Road, is on track for a spring 2024 opening, Roth said.
All of OCPS’ five technical colleges are on the list of schools to be updated or replaced.
“The new site is larger, and it also will allow us to continue offering technical classes in the community without disruption,” Roth said. “There is currently no space for additions.”
OTC West sits on 18.8 acres; the new site is 37.5 acres, allowing for more space for hands-on education. There will be 506 parking spaces and 1,110 student stations, but there is room for future expansion.
“It’s right next to Ocoee High School, so there’s a lot of synergy at that site and would give us a clean slate,” Roth said.
The Career Pathways program will offer instruction in construction trades, welding technology,
apprenticeship, human services and adult education. The 116,223-square-foot facility will have event space, a hybrid lab, student commons, human services labs, construction labs, campus store, childcare and a salon that will be open to the community. A construction yard and solar panels are in the plans as well.
Roth said renderings of the campus will be shared at the next update meeting, likely to be held in May.
“It’s that community’s turn,” Roth said of West Orange. “They deserve an updated facility like the others are going to be. This is going to be a custom facility built for the needs of the community, and we’re really excited about it.”
The construction budget is $42.3 million.
IS A BUS COMPOUND COMING?
OCPS is considering building a bus compound for about 100 buses on the East Story Road site after OTC West moves to its new home in 2024. The idea still is in the planning stages, Roth said. The compound would use the entire 18.8 acres.
The first community meeting is taking place Wednesday, Feb. 16, so neighbors and residents can hear from OCPS staff as well as facilities, transportation and environmental department representatives.
Parked buses are kept at depots; buses can be parked and serviced at the compounds. OCPS currently has four depots and three compounds.
Roth said a study showed OCPS needed to find more bus locations.
“Since 2011, we’ve been looking for a location to add three more bus compounds to the county,” she said. “We had a study in 2011 that said we had buses driving a long way out of their way.”
For instance, she said, a bus driver living in Ocoee must drive to the closest bus compound — on North Pine Hills Road, in Pine Hills — to pick up the bus in the morning, go back to Ocoee to drive the local route, return the bus to the Pine Hills compound and drive home. The driver does the same routine in the afternoon.
“That wastes a lot of staff time and money,” Roth said.
More compounds around the county means less gasoline is used to take the buses in to be serviced.
Roth said other compounds are located in neighborhoods. She added that Melissa Byrd, Orange County School Board vice chair, lives in a neighborhood near a bus compound and has said it’s not disruptive.
Byrd will be at the Feb. 16 meeting, and attendees will hear a presentation on the proposed idea and why this is the best location.
OCPS has not hired an architect, Roth said.
“It’s in planning,” she said. “We’re starting the process so we can talk to the community so we can show them what we’re thinking.”
Roth said it costs more than $1 million extra annually to move school buses back and forth instead of parking them close to the area they serve.
“We’ve been trying to find a suitable site for 11 years, and nothing has been found in that time,” she said.
The bus compound, Roth said, would bring more than 150 jobs to the area and save taxpayers money.
“It would be a job center, and it would be a new high-tech facility with the latest, most updated pollution standards for the buses, and there would be (intentional construction) for minimal impact on the neighborhood. The buses and maintenance bays would be positioned closer to the industrial uses near there.”
A retention pond and eight-foot barrier wall would be incorporated into the plan.
“OCPS is aiming to be a good neighbor,” Roth said.
OCPS staff and the School Board will review comments made at next week’s community meeting and discuss whether to proceed with using this site.
The former Drew High site is full of history, and OCPS intends to memorialize the space with possibly a historical marker or shadow box, Roth said.
“This is a really important site, and we intend to recognize that,” she said. “OCPS is very aware of how meaningful, of how important this site is to the community, and we respect that, and we want the highest and best use of the property, just like they do.”